There’s not much that can happen in the “shale patch” if there is not a hole in the ground for drillers to leave their mark. Drilling is hard on the crew, rig and tools but it is especially demanding on all when toiling away in the shale plays across the U.S., like the Permian Basin or Haynesville.

But the efficiencies have paid off. In some plays the rig count is no longer a true metric for the health of the drilling industry because of innovations like pad drilling and longer laterals. A single rig can now expose much more of the reservoir than before, enabling enhanced completions that help bring more resource to the surface. Across the shale plays drillers continue to increase ROP while reducing their footprint.

Technology companies capitalized on the brief pause in the rig market to rev up their R&D efforts to deliver tougher and more robust tools for when the market returned. From reamers to solids control, from walking rigs to digital applications, the tools featured in this section demonstrate the evolution of technologies for shale drilling.

Editor’s note: The copy herein is contributed from service companies and does not reflect the opinions of Hart Energy.


AMETEK Chandler Engineering has released the Model 5265MG mechanical gel strength analyzer that directly measures gel strength development of well cement slurries under downhole conditions. The analyzer helps optimize cement slurries and accurately determine the potential for annular gas and fluid migration. The analyzer also provides the most accurate simulation of dynamic slurry conditioning during the placement phase as well as the static gel phase of the operation. The analyzer’s design includes a precision motor coupled with a reaction force transducer that allows the instrument to precisely measure phase changes. The motor is capable of precise speed control as low as 0.2 degrees/min for the gel phase and up to 150 rpm for slurry conditioning. The analyzer can operate at maximum temperature of 204 C (400 F) and maximum pressure of 20,000 psi. Reaction torque measurement ranges from 10 lb per 9 sq m (100 sq ft) up to 1,500 lb per 9 sq m.


Cubility’s MudCube is a compact, lightweight solids control system that eliminates the traditional process of shaking fluids and solids. The improved separation capabilities of the system lead to higher quality drilling fluid, fewer chemicals required to maintain properties, more drilling fluid recycled back to the mud tanks and less waste. In a deployment on the Marcellus, cuttings were easily lifted out of the wellbore, leading to immediately improved solids control and waste disposal. Cubility partnered with Stage 3 Separation to provide modular MudCube stands specifically designed for onshore operations. This ensures that the system is easy and inexpensive to install, with minimal impact on ongoing operations. The system also improves drilling efficiencies with stable drilling fluid properties and effective drilling fluid management, resulting in higher ROP, reduced stuck-pipe incidents and increased wellbore stability.


Wellbore conditioning technology is of growing importance for enabling oil and gas operators to achieve the technical limits of today’s drilling challenges. The Drill- N-Ream is a reaming assembly technology that widens and conditions the wellbore during the drilling process, eliminating the requirement for a dedicated reaming run. Distributed by Drilling Tools International, the technology reduces torque, drag, hook loads and stick/slip. It also minimizes bead and friction reducer usage. In terms of drilling performance, there is enhanced weight transfer to bit, improved ROP, minimized mud motor failures and diminished downhole vibration. Opposing polycrystalline diamond compact (PDC) reamers centralize and stabilize cutting forces, and borehole drift can be enlarged up to ¼ in. over bit size. Progressive blades shear the formation with minimal torque, and diamond domes protect the casing and PDC cutting structure during trips and drillouts. The profile relief located near the blades entice the formation into the PDC cutting structure to maximize the amount of formation that is contacted while conditioning the wellbore. Drill-NReam’s resulting conditioned wellbore and drilling optimization save the user time and money. The tool ranges from 2 m to 3 m (8 ft to 10 ft) in length, weighs between 350 lb and 1,200 lb and has an inside diameter of 1 ½ in. to 3 ¾ in. and an outside diameter of 4 ¾ to 14 ¾ in.


Drillmec developed the Striker-800 shale drilling rig to offer the oil and gas industry an off-the-shelf package to lower the well’s breakeven point. Rig features maximize safety while reducing rigup and moving time and improving cluster drilling with efficiency and reliability. For example, the rig is laid out in a space-efficient design to optimize batching operations on multiple lines. Mast raising and setback is a one-shot hydraulic safe-lift operation, with the top drive, torque tube and service loop permanently installed in the lower section of the mast. Another characteristic that enhances safety and performance is the built-in well control package and smart power management system.


In response to global depletion of oil and gas, the industry has developed innovative means to access previously unobtainable resources. Hydraulic fracturing, for example, can release natural gas from shale formations and, along with horizontal drilling, can even maximize production. Unfortunately, shale gas often entails safety, financial and ecological risks. As such, tubulars and connections must be able to reliably endure high internal pressure and temperatures, resist corrosion via sour gases and withstand the extreme bending of horizontal drilling. Frank’s International’s DISPLAY digital application helps ensure connection integrity in high-risk wells by enabling remote live viewing of connection torque-turn data. With more than 20 successful field jobs to date, the system allows users to log in to a webpage from any PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone to view computer-analyzed makeup graphs live as connections are made up throughout the tubular run.


In traditional drilling, multiple problems often become apparent in the wellbore, including tight spots, swelling shale or collapse. Back-reaming the wellbore solves these problems but also takes up valuable rig time. Geopro’s MRS stabilized accentuated reamer (STAR) features a positive displacement motor that continuously reams and back-reams the wellbore as soon as circulation starts. The tool consists of a motor-stator design to operate in the toughest of conditions. The reamer is self-torque-generating and can replace conventional stabilizers, giving drillers the ability to continuously ream in and out of the wellbore without string rotation. This family of tools should enable drilling teams to ream in and out of hole without string rotation, making it ideal for tight spots, hole pack-offs, swelling shales and all manner of wellbore instability-related issues. Due to its internal power generation, this tool will contribute less torque to the string in drilling mode that regular reamers or stabilizers. String rotation can be used to increase the available torque at the STAR for rock destruction and deformation. Due to its offset dynamics and harmonics, the tool is expected to reduce stick/slip or drillstring vibrations. The reamer is bored in the center to ensure better signal transfer for telemetry systems that communicate using the internal fl uid medium in the drillstring. STAR will act as a conventional stabilizer as well as a reamer.


Buoyancy-assisted casing equipment (BACE) allows operators to run casing to planned depth of highly deviated or horizontal wellbores due to the frictional drag between the casing and formation in shale plays exceeding total casing weight. Minimizing these drag forces is the secret behind extending the reach of these wells. Halliburton developed a technique that “floats” the casing into the wellbore by trapping air or lightweight fluid in the lower section of the casing string. The length of the resulting buoyant chamber can be modified depending on the desired casing-weight reduction. The reduced casing weight results in lower drag force, which increases the possible running depth and minimizes the chances of the casing buckling or sticking. The BACE tool is integral with the casing string; does not incorporate any shear pins to the outer diameter, which could serve as leak paths; and does not need any debris barriers that could block free flow when it is needed the most. Recently an operator was faced with a significant challenge in running casing with fiber optics in an extendedreach shale play. The casing could not be rotated during the run in hole. During the previous run prior to BACE, the casing missed depth by 853 m (2,800 ft), resulting in nonutilized production. On the second run the operator turned to Halliburton. After simulating the torque and drag using Landmark’s WELLPLAN software, Halliburton suggested BACE and landed casing at total depth in only three days—saving two days of rig time and 853 m of additional production.


In today’s performance-driven unconventional environments, operators are seeking new ways to deliver a higher quality and more productive wellbore in fewer days and at a lower cost. Traditionally, rigs operate as an independent machine with all equipment operating autonomously, resulting in a lack of integration, minimal automation and coordination of many third parties. By integrating downhole measurements with surface equipment into AC electrical rig designs and with an extensive portfolio of performance optimization software, wellbore placement and managed-pressure drilling solutions, Nabors has introduced a new way of doing business. This model reduces HSE exposure, increases performance and ultimately improves the economics of challenging extended-lateral wells. Nabors SmartRig fleet features high-specification capabilities, including fast-walking pad-optimal designs that are ideal for shale environments. These rigs also include the Rigtelligent icon-based modular controls operating system, which automates routine drilling procedures and enables more precise and consistent operations. Proprietary performance optimization software can be applied to further improve efficiencies, ROP and precise execution of the well plan. Nabors’ rigs can be directionaland managed-pressure ready, with all necessary software and hardware integrated into the rig infrastructure, reducing rigup and rigdown requirements, increasing reliability and streamlining operations.


Newpark Resource’s Evolution clay-free polymer system is a high-performance water-based drilling fluid (HPWBF) system that combines a rugged polymeric viscosifier/ shale stabilizer with an effective drilling performance enhancer. An operator sought a HPWBF for a well in Texas’ Angelina and Jasper counties for exploratory HP/HT drilling up to 6,096 m (20,000 ft) total vertical depth. The interval was successfully drilled using the Evolution system, with all logging runs executed successfully. The final temperatures were in excess of 200 C (392 F), with densities of 13.7 lb/gal. In comparative studies in the Permian, using Evolution shortened drilling time from 14 days to seven days and replaced traditional diesel oil-based mud with an HSEfriendly HPWBF while providing equivalent or better lubricity and reduced overall cost. The system is designed to provide thermal stability; reduced torque and drag; high ROP; near-gauge hole; and virtually trouble-free drilling, logging and running casing to total depth.

The friction factor analysis of Evolution as used on a Permian Basin well is modeled to a 0.22 friction factor. (Source: Newpark Resources)


To help oil and gas producers reduce energy costs and increase machine uptime for assets running in high-demand shale applications, Rockwell Automation has released a new drive tool, the Allen-Bradley PowerFlex 755T drive. This drive provides a low-harmonic active front-end structure that helps reduce problems in power distribution lines. It also features a high-performance variable-speed control that’s ideal for top drives, mud pumps and drawworks— offering precise motor control in a compact footprint. The drive’s common-bus system configuration reduces the number of components required and minimizes the footprint for applications like multiwell pad operations, where several drives can be housed in a central location. The combination of a low-harmonic active front-end structure, high-performance control and the ability to share a common DC bus structure to reduce footprint make the 755T well-suited for shale oil and gas applications like drilling rigs, pumping applications, artificial lift systems and multiwell pad operations.


Drilling a relief well often involves magnetic ranging operations. In most cases, active magnetic ranging is the preferred solution. Such tools can define the distance and direction to the target with respect to their own inner reference axis. In a magnetically clean environment, the azimuthal magnetic toolface could be used to align this inner reference axis with the world’s northeast vertical coordinates. However, when the ranging tool is in close proximity to the target well, magnetic azimuthal toolface referencing is problematic. To make it possible to drill ahead in the presence of this magnetic interference, the normal industry practice is to run a gyro survey and ranging tool separately in a well. However, due to poorly defined highside reference and azimuth, this may not be sufficient if the wells are near-vertical. A proven workaround to this problem is to combine and align both gyro and ranging systems in one tool string and use azimuthal gyro toolface (instead of the azimuthal magnetic or highside gravity toolface) to define the position of the ranging probe reference axis within the world coordinate frame. Scientific Drilling International owns both gyro and ranging technologies which, when combined and deployed during relief well operations, yield dramatic gains in efficiency in well-to-well referencing.


Longer laterals equate to increased production for shale drillers. As part of a well construction design for long laterals, a liner often is installed in one of these laterals. This installation typically requires increased torsional and compressive strength from the running tool to get to total depth. The Powerscrew Liner System from Seminole Services was designed to effectively address this demand. The system’s setting tool uses both compression and torsion while setting the liner top. As a result, these loads transfer more easily to the liner during run-in without the need for a special adapter. Another challenge presented by long laterals is the need to rotate and circulate during liner deployment. The system meets this challenge by providing the rotation and circulation necessary for today’s well construction. In addition, the system’s modern expandable design delivers a step change in reliability. Today’s operators do not hang liners. Liners are worked into the lateral section with compression and torque and then set to engage the intermediate casing.


When cost per barrel becomes an issue, drillers must grab what is available to improve productivity. The Tomax Anti Stick-slip Tool (AST) represents an interesting development in this respect. The spring characteristics of a regular drillstring tend to cause significant distortions in the delivery of power to the bit. Because the bit also is resting on the same surface it is about to remove, it will easily lose its cut when the transfer of weight gets erratic. The AST responds to torsional change within a response time of 5⁄100 of a second and regulates the axial loading to maintain a steady torsional loading and cut. The continuous loading by the AST also reduces the risk of impact loading and premature spalling of the bits’ cutting edges.

Improvements in the AST’s cutter efficiency deliver reductions in heat loss and vibration, extending the overall service life of downhole electronics and the bit. (Source: Tomax)


Operators have remarkably increased the energy they run through their bottomhole assemblies seeking higher performance out of their drillbits. Ulterra’s new XtremeParameter (XP) polycrystalline diamond compact (PDC) bits are built for the operator seeking greater performance through increased drilling parameters like weight on bit and the use of high-torque motors. As rig components, drillstrings and downhole tools have been redesigned to increase output over the last 18 to 24 months, Ulterra was developing and testing bit concepts to account for them. These now-proven concepts were brought together into the XP product line. By redesigning body and blade geometry, implementing cutter reinforcement, and using an optimized material selection process, the XP line of drillbits has improved. Ulterra is releasing its XP line of PDC cutters with the redesign of the drillbit. Through a process of material optimization and testing, XP cutters are proven to take greater force with less damage compared to previous generations, improving impact resistance by nearly 20%. With this new XP product line Ulterra is able to extend the life and reliability of PDC bits in the harshest drilling conditions without sacrificing performance in other areas. Oil and gas drilling will keep evolving at an ever-expanding rate.